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How important is ranking for a career in academia?

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Advise desired for selecting a school. For context, I'm pursuing a PhD in environmental engineering with the hope of landing a career in academia. I know I still have some schools to visit but I'm trying to start figuring it out.

School A is relatively well-known. It's in a neat location and feels like a good fit, like I could be happy there. I'm a little concerned that other students in the department aren't as ambitious as a whole (there are obviously exceptions). There's a very very well-known professor working there that is trying hard to recruit me for their project/team. I think I would love to work with them; they seem like an awesome mentor as well as researcher. They told me that they have enough grant money so I could have essentially total freedom on my project. Cost of living is definitely manageable with the ample aid they're providing me. Top 10 program.

School B is extremely well-known and respected. Also an interesting location, but for different reasons. I feel like I would seriously struggle with financial stress throughout the duration of the program; no funding yet. Lots of interesting projects but not a strong connection with any particular faculty member. Have yet to visit, but I think I could fit in. It may help me job-wise down the road. Top 5 program. 

School C is well-known, more so in academia. Good location- most people seem to like it although I have yet to visit myself. Cost of living is reasonable, and with the financial aid it's definitely doable. I have had good communication with a faculty member there, but not on the same level as School A. They have a really neat joint program that I'm interested in and that that faculty member would encourage. Could also probably fit in. I think it has a slightly better reputation in academia than School A. Top 10 program.


Thoughts?? Things to consider???

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I think the advisor reputation is just as important as program reputation and A is still a top program.  It sounds like A is your first choice.  C also seems good, and it sounds like you don’t like B as much as A or C.   I think at A with the great advisor you may do better than B.  I think happiness can affect your graduate school     productivity.  I know in stats rankings don’t matter other than broad differences bigger than five or so places so I wouldn’t be surprised if the difference between the three isn’t that great.  Rankings aren’t perfect indicators of student success.  Try comparing the placements and see if how much they vary.  Still visit B and see how it goes but if A (or C) is what will make you happy and productive go for it.  

Edited by Bayesian1701
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While reputation is important, in certain fields the absolute order is more important than others. In engineering, there is generally less competition for academic positions because there are so many lucrative/appealing non-academic for engineering PhDs, so students from a wider range of programs are competitive for top academic positions than in some other fields. To that end, I don't think there will be a huge difference coming from a top 10 program and a top 5 program.

That said, even if there was you shouldn't ever choose a program where you're not adequately funded, especially if you have the option of a program with good funding.

School A or School C sound like viable options for you, and it seems like you prefer School A. You can wait and see (or ask) what funding looks like at School B but I definitely wouldn't attend without full funding.

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